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All writing is a form of prayer - John Keats

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Kudos for Prosecutors? Maybe pigs do fly!

Our readers know that we’ve been critical of prosecutors over the years. But, a couple of Michigan prosecutors are rocking the boat, and it feels so good! 

Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon, perhaps the greatest maverick of them all, announced the other day that her office will no longer pursue certain criminal charges resulting from traffic stops that are not related to public safety. Hallelujah! 

What happens is this. Police officers will stop a suspicious motorist for tinted windows, or a defective tail light, or an air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror. You get the picture. But what the cops are really looking for is something more serious. Prosecutor Siemon’s office found, for example, that Black and Hispanic people are significantly more likely to be searched for contraband in situations like this. 

So, guess what? While the Black and Hispanic population in Ingham County stands at about 12%, they make up a whopping 41% of those arrested for misdemeanors. It’s even worse for felonies: 54%! 

To give credit where credit is due, Prosecutor Siemon isn’t the first to adopt this traffic-stop policy. One step ahead of her was Prosecutor Eli Savit in Washtenaw County. He says his office will not file a possession of contraband charge if that stuff was discovered during one of these sometimes-called "pretext stops."

Well, as you can imagine, the cops are raising hell. Robert Stevenson, Executive Director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, is labeling these steps as a disservice to the community and a “free walk” for criminals. 

Prosecutor Siemon explained, in an MLive story: “Those of us who are trying to make changes are saying that we have to admit all the warts, the problems that have existed, some of our own creation. We need to be willing to look at this honestly and make changes.” 

She said she believes public officials are trying to what’s right, and she really doesn’t want the new policy to feel like an attack on the police. But that ain’t the way they see it. 

Grumbled Stevenson: “The police are in the process of trying to protect their communities, and she’s basically taking a tool away from them. If I were a citizen of Ingham County I would be extremely concerned.” 

That is, I guess, unless you happen to be a Black or Hispanic citizen.



Friday, July 23, 2021

July 24: M&M Day!

Matthew Douglas Tjapkes was born on this day in 1978, 11 years after Marcia and I were convinced that we were finished with child-raising. Wrong!

That means that Matt was still living at home in the 90s, when I got started trying to help Maurice Carter, a poor black prisoner who claimed he was wrongly convicted. As I recall, Matt received an A on a college speech he gave about Maurice. And it was Matt, who as a young reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune, snapped the picture of Maurice holding his walking papers that graces the cover of my book SWEET FREEDOM. That photo was taken on another historic July 24---2004. 

Matt would hear bits and pieces of Maurice Carter stories, the highs and lows of that amazing journey, every time he came home. 

The prosecutor battling our efforts all the way.

The court system refusing to listen.

Maurice getting dangerously ill.

A stubborn governor refusing to budge.

Welterweight Champ Rubin Hurricane Carter joining our fight.

Parole Board hearings held in the prison hospital.

Commutation granted while I was drag racing a Studebaker.

Finally, stepping into freedom on July 24---1st time in 29 years! 

Who could ever guess that sportscaster Matt Tjapkes would ever follow his newscaster father into a field of prisoner advocacy? Other than our Heavenly Father, who had it all planned at the very outset, I suspect that Maurice Carter could. For both Matt and his dad, it was a circuitous route. But we both eventually landed right here! Right where we belong. 

Over time, neither of us could ignore the pull to help “the least of these,” to recognize that all persons residing behind bars deserve humane care and treatment, and to understand that somebody had better stand up and do something about it. 

And so, on this July 24, we again celebrate Matt’s birthday and Maurice’s freedom day. 

On this date in 2004, moments after leaving prison, Maurice Carter stepped out of a motorhome in a supermarket parking lot in Jackson, Michigan, to greet his fans and supporters. After snapping Maurice’s photo, Matt threw his arms around me and whispered just one word: “Awesome!” 

Yes, it was! 

Yes, it is!

 

 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Unfair sentences----simple or complicated?

I’m simple-minded. That was the inference, in a recent discussion with a well-educated friend. 

She insists that things just aren’t that simple...issues aren’t just black and white. 

And that’s where I get into trouble, especially when we talk about things like Black Lives Matter. 

See, I take a look at the recent sentencing of Paul Hodgins, 38-year-old white guy from Florida, who pleaded guilty last month to obstructing congressional proceedings --- which he helped delay on January 6. He was among those hell-raisers inside the Senate chamber, wearing a Donald Trump shirt and carrying a Trump flag. As a result, he rightfully got arrested and charged. 

That was a sad day in American History. As writers Dan Zak and Karen Heller put it, in the Washington Post: Some defendants seemed bent on bloodshed and were charged with felonies including conspiracy. One group dressed in combat attire, used walkie-talkies, adopted code names such as “Gator 1” and “Gator 6” and, once inside the Capitol, appeared to be searching for legislators, according to the government. One militiaman wore a patch on his vest that read “I don’t believe in anything. I’m just here for the violence,” according to an affidavit from an FBI agent. 

So, what kind of sentence does this white man receive for his involvement in domestic terrorism? 8 months in prison! District Judge Randolph Moss, while agreeing that Hodgkins had contributed to a grave offense against democracy, allowed that he deserved some leniency. Why? Because he pleaded guilty "exceptionally early," wasn't involved in violence and issued a "sincere" apology." 

And then I look at the recent case of Crystal Mason. 

This black woman, mother of three, cast a provisional ballot in 2016 while she was on “federal supervised release,” a preliminary period of freedom for individuals who have served their full time of incarceration in federal prison. Problem is, that happened in Texas, and you may not do that in the Lone Star State. It was an honest mistake. Crystal had no idea she was not allowed to participate in an election 

What was her sentence for casting a vote? 5 years in prison! 

For me, it only takes a glance at these two stories to grasp why the BLM movement continues to gain momentum.  

I know, I know. It’s much more complicated than that. 

Simple-minded me! (Sigh)



Saturday, July 17, 2021

The Douger: Still a crusader!

 “Get in good trouble, necessary trouble...”

John Lewis 

I’m thinking a lot about editorials these days. Perhaps because a new book is being published as we speak. 

As a radio journalist, I wrote hundreds of editorials about local community issues and problems. One thing my listeners knew for certain: Doug stood for the “little guy.” 

I couldn’t begin to list all of the events and all of the people who influenced my passion for helping the underdog. I can’t remember anything as a youngster that started me on that path. The neat thing is, I’m still walking on it! 

I’m proud to announce the publication of a brand-new book: Tri-Cities---One Grand Community! It’s a book of radio editorials that I wrote and aired between 1964 and 1978. A fellow broadcaster had saved several hundred of them, unbeknownst to me. Upon discovering them, I was assisted by Julie Bunke of the Tri-Cities Historical Museum and Jeanette Weiden of the Loutit District Library in getting them sorted out, retyped and categorized. 

When presented with the final manuscript, a collection of about 80 editorials, our publisher was elated. “A veritable historical masterpiece,” he exclaimed! Details of availability will be announced soon. 

All of this is a long explanation as to why I continue to write editorials. 

At age 65, when most normal people think about retirement, I entered my third and final career, as an advocate for prisoners. It was my calling, my destination. 

And my pen still worked, my fingers still typed. 

So, you continue to see editorials by The Douger in this blog site on a regular basis. I hope you'll keep reading them, because this stuff is important!

Some listeners used to complain that I was trying to sway opinion. That’s because editorials do, indeed, express opinions. My goal, however, was to help local citizens see the issue. To think about it. To look into it. And, after getting available data, to then form an opinion. 

Here in this blog site, I’m trying to get you to focus on the needs, the problems, the issues, that our friends behind bars face and must deal with on a daily basis. Too many people don’t care. I don’t see that as an option. 

In an article titled “What is a Good Editorial,” writers Ajai Singh and Shakuntala Singh said: “Scratch the surface of any good editor who enjoys his job, and a crusader will shine through.” 

The Douger: Crusading until his pen runs dry.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Just another empty bed

The story is so sad, so frustrating, so anger-inducing, in so many ways. 

Kevin, a resident in one of Michigan’s 29 prisons, was only 61, but he wasn’t in good health. Three times last week he was taken to Health-care in his wheelchair with chest pains. Each time the nurse sent him back to his cell. The third time he reclined on his bunk and died of a massive heart attack. 

That’s the upsetting part. Now here’s the sad chapter. The man had no known friends or relatives. The body was cremated, and the cremains taken to the state’s Cherry Hill Cemetery, on prison property. 

Since the cemetery opened in 1932, more than 1,000 prisoners have been interred there. 

Even our veterans without home or family are remembered by vet’s organizations when they die. But nothing like that for prisoners. Nada. Gone and forgotten. 

Well, I’m not forgetting them, and today I’m going to dedicate one of my favorite readings to those incarcerated men and women---created in the image of God---who left this earth with no dollars and no family. 

This is my tribute to deceased and abandoned prisoners, but who were never forgotten by Jesus. 

The Misfit

(The story of the robber who showed compassion on Jesus) 

It seemed to be his lot, he was one of those unfortunate people,

With a talent always to be in the wrong place … always at the wrong time.

He was born wrong: The declining Roman Empire, the broken home.

The conquered Jewish nation, the poverty-stricken slums.

He lived wrong: When others went to school, he played hooky,

Others played ball, he stole apples.

Others learned trades, he learned to cheat.

Just a common thief … he started wrong, he lived wrong,

And it looked as if he’d finish wrong: The wrong place, and the wrong time.

A Roman cross, a painful death … A final shame.

When, from the middle cross, came words of redeeming love:

“You shall be with me in Paradise!”

In all the stream of history,

One and only One

Of all the numberless sons of Adam could have said these words

… and he hung beside Him!

In one instant his life, given to evil … thoroughly misused,

Doomed to die, was changed and ended in crowning glory,

It was the one sentence without which there is no success,

It was the one sentence which redeems all failure,

And it was said to him at life’s final flickering moment.

The one most important issue of all was gloriously solved:

At long last, he was in the right place at the right time! 

(Bob Benson: Excerpt from Laughter in The Walls/© Copyright 1969 Peggy Benson)



 

Sunday, July 4, 2021

The Bible and the Constitution. Two great documents. Both misused!

Sunday, July 4...anniversary of that important day in history when the United States formally declared its independence. Seems to me that it’s also the perfect day to make some observations about two incredible documents: God’s Holy Word and the United States Constitution. 

I am amused how religious zealots paw through the Bible to find some isolated verse to justify their extreme positions. They’ll find a few words tucked away in some passage to prove their point, but totally ignore other passages that might disagree with their opinions. 

People do the same thing with the Constitution. 

If there is disagreement in categories such as illegal search and seizure, civil rights, free speech, or (gasp) even a hint that some controls are necessary on weapons, the favorite line of defense is to fall back on the Constitution. Other guarantees for other citizens are not so readily recognized. 

The thing is, you can’t just pick and choose. You either take all of God’s word, or none of it. You either buy into all rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, or none. 

I read and hear news reports from people claiming constitutional violations involving their rights as US citizens...but seldom if ever do I hear about violations that affect people who reside in our jails and prisons. 

It is not uncommon for those of us in prisoner advocacy to routinely struggle with reports of excessive bail, excessive fines, extreme temperatures, poor medical care, excessive force, shameful feeding issues, etc., etc., etc. All fall under the category of “cruel and unusual punishment.” We hear this stuff all the time! Where is the hue and cry? Amendments to the constitution say this stuff is forbidden! 

On this 4th of July, it’s important to repeat these cherished words once again: 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

And, it’s also important to remember that we must recognize the incredible depth and meaning of God’s Word and the US Constitution, two separate documents, not at all intertwined...two profound documents, neither of which deserves to be fractionalized to support petty arguments.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

It's hot. And it's hell in prison!

 It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.

 Yogi Berra

With all the coverage these days about the proposed new Michigan budget, have you heard anything about air conditioning for state prisons? Me neither. 

We’re tough on crime in this state. If they hadn’t committed the crime, they wouldn’t be doing the time. And by God, when it’s hot, they can just sweat! 

Michigan’s 29 state prisons don’t have air conditioning. The news reports of heat waves in the western and eastern sections of our country remind us that it gets hot in the summer. In Michigan, too. And when it does, conditions in our prisoners become unbearable. 

Courts in Wisconsin, Arizona, and Mississippi have ruled that incarceration in extremely hot or cold temperatures violates the Eighth Amendment. But those rulings had no national impact on air conditioning in prisons. 

Except for special units, Michigan’s prisons have no AC. Last year we were flooded with complaints, as the high temperature situation became more complicated with all of the COVID issues. But just imagine how terrible it might be if we got hit with some kind of a heat wave like that in other parts of our country. 

Think about it. We’re not just talking about persons dealing with high temperatures. Many people in prison are especially susceptible to heat-related illness. Some have certain health conditions or medications that make them especially vulnerable. Conditions such as diabetes and obesity can limit people’s ability to regulate their body heat. Old age also increases risk of heat-related illness and problems. 

More than 30,000 people are living in these Michigan pressure cookers while the rest of us enjoy our AC. And no one is rushing to improve the situation. 

We contend that refusing to install air conditioning isn’t a matter of cost savings at all. It’s appearing to be tough on crime. Furthermore, it’s our contention that denying air conditioning to incarcerated people is subjecting people to cruel and unusual punishment, and even handing out death sentences. 

How do you feel? Your state representative and state senator should know. 

Your life and my life flow into each other as wave flows into wave, and unless there is peace and joy and freedom for you, there can be no real peace or joy or freedom for me.

Frederick Buechner

Monday, June 28, 2021

Are pigs flying in Berrien County?

The leopard cannot change its spots, nor can the tiger change its stripes

Science Daily 

Has Berrien County really changed? Only time will tell. 

On Friday, Berrien County Circuit Court Judge Angela M. Pasula set aside the conviction of Corey Quentin McCall, who was wrongfully convicted of three counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. 

On March 26, 2005, four armed men broke into a house and killed three people and shot a surviving victim during a robbery in Benton Harbor. The surviving victim eventually identified McCall as one of the gunmen after seeing his profile during the robbery for one-to-two seconds, even though the defendant was shopping in Walmart at the time. 

McCall was just 23 when sentenced to serve life without parole. 

Please don’t get me wrong. The fact that McCall, now 39, has been freed is wonderful. And highest praise goes to both the Michigan Attorney General’s new Conviction Integrity Unit and the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project. God bless these people who are working night and day to prove innocence. 

Because of their hard work, new evidence was found proving Mr. McCall’s innocence. With the help of the Benton Harbor Department of Public Safety, a phone was forensically analyzed that corroborated the new evidence. The Benton Harbor Department and the Berrien County Prosecutor's Office, we are told, collaborated with CIU special agents to review the previous investigation and pursue new leads.

In reading weekend news accounts, these quotes raise eyebrows. 

Attorney General Dana Nessel: "The exoneration of Mr. McCall is an example of the importance of a collaboration between multiple agencies. When I established the CIU, I envisioned our office working side-by-side with local prosecutors and police departments to uncover the truth.” 

Berrien County Prosecutor Steven Pierangeli : "It goes without saying that it is tragic Mr. McCall has served any time in prison for this crime.  Prosecutors in Berrien County make every effort to prevent this from occurring. Nothing can restore his lost youth or return to him the years he spent in prison."    

Keep in mind: 

-This is the same police department in Benton Harbor whose investigation led to McCall’s questionable arrest and conviction, as well as many others over the years.

-This is the same Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office that authorized the warrant and obtained the conviction, not only of this innocent man, but others in the past.

-This is the same Berrien County courtroom where McCall was found guilty and sentenced to life without parole...a courtroom with a long and dark history.

The exoneration deserves every headline. Mr. McCall deserves every apology. 

But, all this business about Benton Harbor and Berrien County loving justice and moving mountains to overturn and avoid wrongful convictions would be a radical departure from history.

 


Wednesday, June 23, 2021

That “prison funk” is bad stuff!

After spending 29 years behind bars, my friend Maurice Carter just couldn’t take enough baths and showers upon his release! He insisted that he was trying to get rid of a certain odor. “Prison funk,” he called it. After numerous baths and showers, he was convinced that the smell lingered. 

In recent weeks, in preparation for another report, I’ve been reviewing sad stories about some of our friends after their return to society. These stories lead me to believe that “prison funk” is a lot more than just an odor. I use it as a description of all the hellish things that hang on because of incarceration. 

I’m reviewing reports of homelessness, depression, suicide and attempted suicide, as well as addiction. These men and women couldn’t wait to get out, and were anxious to start a new life. Sadly, showers and baths were not enough to completely shake the “prison funk.” 

Here are some of the things that I see imprisonment negatively affecting:

            Relationships (so many bad choices upon release!)

            Psychological disorders (so much depression!)

            Employment (so many stigma problems!)

            Substance abuse (so many cases of relapse!). 

And that says nothing about how incarceration has affected

            Family

            Spouses

            Community. 

American writer Damien Echols personally experienced incarceration. 

“Prison is designed to separate, isolate, and alienate you from everyone and everything. You're not allowed to do so much as touch your spouse, your parents, your children. The system does everything within its power to sever any physical or emotional links you have to anyone in the outside world. They want your children to grow up without ever knowing you. They want your spouse to forget your face and start a new life. They want you to sit alone, grieving, in a concrete box, unable even to say your last farewell at a parent's funeral.” 

It is that kind of treatment, that kind of experience, that creates the “prison funk” I am describing. No, “prison funk” is not just an odor, and it haunts the bejesus out of every person who leaves a cell behind and steps into freedom.

 I wholeheartedly agree with American historian Howard Zinn: 

It must surely be a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit that even a small number of those men and women in the hell of the prison system survive it and hold on to their humanity.”


Saturday, June 19, 2021

Happy Father's Day?

I have received all of my Father’s Day gifts already. I need no more. 

I have four beautiful adult kids, all healthy and well, who love each other. Each is happily married to a beautiful and devoted spouse. I have nine beautiful grandkids. There is harmony and laughter and love in our family. 

I am blessed beyond measure. 

Yet, my observance of Father’s Day is clouded, and it all goes back to this statement by my favorite theologian, Frederick Buechner: 

Your life and my life flow into each other as wave flows into wave, and unless there is peace and joy and freedom for you, there can be no real peace or joy or freedom for me. 

The situation is this: I work 7 days a week with residents of the Michigan Prison System. And daily, this is what I see: 

Fathers whose wives have abandoned them, and who have no idea where their kids are.

Fathers whose kids despise them because of their plight, and who refuse to visit them.

Fathers who have never seen their kids.

Grandfathers who have grandchildren, but have never even met them.

Fathers of little kids, trying their best to be good daddies in absentia.

Fathers who feel like failures because of their example to kids. 

And that is just the beginning of the list. 

On Father’s Day, 2021, a couple of observations. 

First, for those of us in a free society, we must listen to Frederick Buechner. We must not tire in efforts to prevent young people from getting into prison, to seek better alternatives for many prison sentences, to improve prison conditions, and to make prisons more family-friendly. We can’t be completely happy until these dads behind bars feel some happiness. 

Second, join me in a prayer for fathers and grandfathers behind bars today. They crave the same benefits of parenthood that you and I enjoy. I send them these words of assurance from a favorite gospel song written by Lynda Randle: 

For the God on the mountain

Is still God in the valley

When things go wrong

He'll make them right

And the God of the good times

Is still God in the bad times

The God of the day

Is still God in the night. 

May ALL dads and granddads claim those words today. 

Moms and grandmothers, too.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Wrong prisoner or wrong dog. Which would raise the bigger fuss?

Someone on Facebook raised an interesting point the other day. It was in the comment section below an article telling of an execution somewhere in the United States. The key point in the story was that, until the moment he died, the man claimed his innocence. 

The writer posed a “what if?” She said, “What if it was discovered that the wrong dog had been euthanized?” Her speculation was that public reaction to the loss of an innocent pet would be far more dramatic than if a state put to death an innocent person. 

Matt has often theorized that fund-raising would be much more successful for us if we were trying to save puppies and kittens, rather than showing kindness to incarcerated human beings. 

Whether or not you favor capital punishment, the problem of killing the wrong person is very troubling and very real. In a report earlier this year, the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) said its examination of every death sentence handed down since 1973 – more than 9,600 in all – revealed that 185 death row inmates had been exonerated after being wrongfully convicted, 11 more than previously known. There have been 1,532 executions in the United States since 1976. 

I personally viewed one of those executions. My friend Anthony, on Death Row in Texas, maintained his innocence until the day he died in 2008. I was the last friend he saw before entering heaven’s gates. We prayed together. 

Now, with problems of obtaining appropriate death-dealing drugs, we’re hearing reports of states reviving old practices of frying people in electric chairs or gunning them down with firing squads. Are we making progress? 

The last administration thumbed its nose at death penalty opponents, shamefully arranging the unprecedented execution of 13 federal prisoners before President Trump left office. 

I well remember the situation in 2003 when the guilt of so many people on Illinois Death Row was questioned that then Governor George Ryan finally commuted the sentences of all 167 people in line for execution. 

Now that we have a new president who opposes the death penalty, I suppose we could and should press for a commutation of all prisoners on death row. But I suggest we go a step further. Let’s raise our voices in opposition to the death penalty. 

It’s time to encourage our President to place a moratorium on capital punishment.

Now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

GRATITUDE from behind bars!

Michigan prisoners are showing appreciation for our services in a most amazing and gracious manner. 

It’s no secret that I struggle when someone asks how HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS measures success.

I have appreciated Fr. Greg Boyle’s thoughts on the subject, when asked about his work with gang members. “Jesus was always too busy being faithful to worry about success. I'm not opposed to success; I just think we should accept it only if it is a by-product of our fidelity. If our primary concern is results, we will choose to work only with those who give us good ones.”

But, it’s a fair question.

One very nice person said she had difficulty donating to our cause because another charity she supports can tell her exactly how many hungry children they are feeding. We can’t provide numbers like that. We can tell her how many prisoners we are working with, but that has nothing to do with success.

A grant writer consultant insists that success data is important. Yet, this is why it’s complicated. 

We’re responding to some 100 calls a day, and we obviously can’t help every person in prison with every problem he or she faces. So, compiling specific data regarding our successes isn’t easy. We consider it a huge success, for example, when the prisoner just shows gratitude that someone cares. But how do you reflect that on a chart or list? 

Well, a growing percentage of prisoners have found a most amazing way. They’re donating money to support our cause! Aware of the dramatic increase in office activity in the past year, they’re stepping up to the plate. Something we’ve never seen before! Something we've never asked for.

HFP has received some 60 cash donations from prisoners already this year...an average of 10 per month! Unheard of in this business! These people, if they are fortunate enough to even have a job, may earn 40 or 50 cents an hour. While their wages haven’t gone up in decades, prison store and vending machine prices just keep on rising. They're not flush with dollars. 

Now the headline. 

This week, we received the largest single gift from a Michigan prisoner! Mr. D, who has won a couple of court settlements, said, “I really want to make a generous donation to your corporation because you have been the first organization to really help these guys in here in a way that makes a difference. Please, send my love to each and every one of you and thank you.” 

His gift: $15,000.00! 

This proof may not be what statisticians were hoping for, but we’ll claim it as a strong indication of HFP success. And the resulting feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment for our team is delicious! 

Thank you, Mr. D. Thank you, Lord!



 

 

 

Monday, June 7, 2021

Proudly treating transgender prisoners as fellow humans!

As we enter Pride Month, I’d like to focus on the T in the popular term LBGTQ. 

Some of my friends, especially those who share my Christian beliefs, really don’t like to talk about these things. If we don’t talk about them we don’t have to think about them, and if we don’t think about them we don’t have to deal with the complexity of these issues. 

When contacted for advice regarding a transgender person in one of our prisons, a Christian counselor bluntly stated to us: "Lots of luck with that one!"

First, a simple description of the word transgender. It’s an adjective, denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex. 

In Pride Month, I’m very proud to state that HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS is working with at least 40 transgender Michigan prisoners! Consider, for a moment, just how difficult it must be for a transgender person to just survive in that environment! They face specific and unique problems due to ignorance, discrimination, and violence from guards and other prisoners. Therefore, they are exposed to horrific rates of abuse. The U.S. Transgender Survey found that transgender people are ten times as likely to be sexually assaulted by their fellow inmates and five times as likely to be sexually assaulted by staff. 

I spotted this headline recently in a Detroit Newspaper: A transgender woman says she has been shunned her whole life: by her parents, strangers and the prison system, where she was ignored until she got raped. 

HFP has been blessed to receive assistance and guidance from a small band of professionals, who have even agreed to become pen pals with some of our transgender clients. We not only do our best to help and encourage transgender persons behind bars, we also show respect by referring to their chosen sexual identity in correspondence and with the pronouns we use ("she" instead of "he," e.g.). Our imprisoned friends are so grateful for these simple demonstrations of kindness! 

How sad that transgender persons have become such a political target in our divided country! State legislatures in some 33 states are now entertaining bills that restrict their rights. And further checking reveals that the wording is almost identical. Some devious person, agency or group made a concerted effort to send a template to political operatives in each state. Shameful. 

I love Psalm 139. These words in verse 14 fit our discussion: I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

May our transgender friends claim this today.

And may the rest of us respect it.

 

 


Wednesday, June 2, 2021

1,000 people in Michigan prisons are innocent! Do you care?

Baptist Preacher Jeff Gravins tells the story about a church searching for a new minister. A likely candidate was invited to speak on a Sunday morning. The congregation loved his sermon, and called him to become their new pastor. 

Great sermon the first week. The second week, the very same sermon. The third week, the same again. The fourth week, samo samo. 

That prompted a meeting by the church board. Said the church’s leading elder: “We are a bit concerned that you keep preaching the same sermon every Sunday. Our question is: ‘Do you have another sermon?’ The preacher took off his glasses, folded his arms and responded, ‘I do have another sermon. But this church hasn’t obeyed the first one yet.’” 

I’m starting to feel that way about wrongful convictions. 

20 years ago I founded this organization, while trying to free my wrongly convicted brother Maurice Carter. Ever since, I’ve been hammering on the topic. 

Last week, former Cooley Innocence Project Director and HFP Director Marla Mitchell-Cichon was in Jackson to hold the prison door open for Gilbert Poole, a wrongly convicted Michigan inmate who had spent 32 years behind bars. 

Just two days earlier, I was at the Muskegon Correctional Facility to welcome my friend Ray Gray, who spent 48 years in prison for a crime he did not commit! 

Does anyone care about this injustice? 

Best selling novelist John Grisham, who is also a lawyer, says in his book The Innocent Man (a must read!): Wrongful convictions happen every week in every state in this country.  And they happen for all the same reasons. 

Experts agree that 3-5% of prisoners are innocent. 

Let’s boil down the numbers. If we have about 35,000 people in our state prisons in Michigan right now, that means we have at least 1,000 men and women locked up in our state facilities who are innocent! 

Let’s go to the Washington Post for something else that you should find maddening. Here’s the headline: More than half of all wrongful criminal convictions are caused by government misconduct, study finds! 

In his story, WAPO writer Tom Jackman quotes U of M retired professor Samuel Gross: “Misconduct by police, prosecutors and other law enforcement officials is a regular problem, and it produces a steady stream of convictions of innocent people.” 

The study also found that police and prosecutors are rarely disciplined for actions that lead to a wrongful conviction. 

Something’s gotta happen, boys and girls, and it ain’t gonna happen if you don’t give a crap! 

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Desmond Tutu

 

 

 

Friday, May 28, 2021

TW3!

TWTWTW, better known as TW3, was the title of a BBC TV comedy show in the 1960s. The letters stood for these words: That was the week that was! 

Today I’m reminded of that title. This has been one amazing week! Not one, but two clients of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS, both wrongly convicted, walked free! 

The good news: Ray Gray and Gilbert Poole are free! 

The bad news: Combined, they spent 80 years behind bars for something they didn’t do! 

The big question: Will either of them ever get paid by the state? 

Raymond Gray, 69, served 48 years after being convicted of killing someone in an armed robbery. He was actually at home at the time. Sadly, he was not exonerated. His attorney was able to arrange a plea deal with the Wayne County Prosecutor and a judge. Ray walked out of the Muskegon Correctional Facility Tuesday afternoon. 

Gilbert Poole, 56, served 32 years after being convicted of stabbing a man to death in Pontiac. This many years later, DNA evidence proved conclusively that he was not the killer. Gilbert walked out of the G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson Thursday morning. 

These two men will be the first to acknowledge that gifts like these don’t just fall like manna from heaven. It takes years of hard work, prayer, and downright legal wrangling. 

In addition to all of that, it helps immensely when someone is there to hold their hand, to offer encouragement, to help with a toothache or medical problem. That’s where HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS comes in. 

Former HFP Board Chair Dan Rooks once expressed his pride in our organization’s reputation of not abandoning our friends, so I share a couple of numbers with you. Believing in his innocence, I began working with Ray Gray 17 years ago! I was at the prison gate to welcome him. Believing in his innocence, Cooley Law School Innocence Project attorney Marla Mitchell-Cichon (a member of the HFP Board of Directors) began working with Gilbert Poole 18 years ago! She was at the prison gate to welcome him. 

In closing I just want to say that I hope Ray Gray continues his fight for exoneration, so he can collect $2.4 million owed him by the state. And I wish Gilbert Poole success as he attempts to collect the $1.6 million settlement owed him! That money won’t help recover all the lost years, but it will help even the score and ease the pain. 

"We will never know what our life would have been like had we not gone through this horrible experience."

Exoneree Yusef Salaam